It was late in the season of 2002; I was a relief pitcher for the Norfolk Tides, triple A team of the New York Mets. On this particular day, I was assigned the duty of keeping our game chart. As a relief pitcher, this was a rare occurrence but having thrown several innings the day before, I wasn’t available to pitch that day. At that point, I had only seen paper charts on clipboards so you can imagine my shock when I was handed a Palm Pilot to chart the game. It was clear that baseball was pivoting to a digital world and along with it, data and analytics were about to get bigger, faster, and stronger…minus the Palm Pilot.
Baseball is a game of inches, which means on any given play, the slightest detail could be the difference between winning or losing. Through the years, the capturing and the delivery of information has evolved. Traditionally, anecdotal notes and matchups were how the game was managed and played. In recent years, it has transitioned to mounds of data with game decisions being based on the analysis of that information. Not only has data and analytics made its way into how the game is played, but it's also heavily relied on for how players train. Collecting information on swing mechanics, pitching mechanics, launch angle, or spin rate provides players the data insight needed to work on the specific details of their craft. Analytics will continue to grow in the game and impact how players perform, how managers manage, and how clubs assemble their teams.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. Heading into a series, teams use scouting reports to assemble game plans. However, as situations change from pitch to pitch, new data becomes available and adjustments are made. A hitter can have his entire first at-bat analyzed in detail near the dugout and adjust his approach for the next at-bat. The speed at which teams receive new information can put them in a more statistically favorable position to achieve success. It’s all an effort to create more predictable outcomes with intelligent information at the right time.
Baseball is a game of failure. Some of the greatest hitters in the game carried a .300 batting average, which also means they failed to get a hit 7 out of 10 times. Knowing why you succeed is important but understanding why you fail is a gamechanger. Having access to information on both ends, puts players in a position for more success. Along with the evolution of data, team practices have become more focused, player training more specialized, and for teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, managing the game is purely based on analytics. The game of baseball will continue to evolve, and technology is the platform that will give teams a competitive advantage like never before.